APPLE INC. is planning to unleash a slew of new apps, features and development tools at its annual software conference next month. To improve its devices and strengthen its connection to customers, the consumer technology giant will continue to walk a fine line between wooing outside app makers while also competing against them.
The Worldwide Developers Conference, or WWDC, starts June 3. The company will reveal updates to the operating systems that run the iPhone, iPad, Mac, Apple Watch, and Apple TV. Highlights include upgrades to core iPhone apps such as Maps, Reminders and Messages; new apps for the Apple Watch that make it more independent from the iPhone, and enhancements to the health tracking capabilities of Apple devices, according to people familiar with the plans.
Since launching the iPhone in 2007, Apple has pursued an aggressive approach to refreshing its mobile operating systems each year. The fast pace is taxing on Apple engineers, but the results have been impressive. The company’s products are often unique and more capable than those of rivals because Apple’s home-grown software works so well with the hardware. The new updates also give users access to the latest services like Apple Music and the upcoming TV+ video-streaming subscription, which give Apple a recurring revenue stream.
It’s a delicate balance. Part of the allure of iPhones and iPads also comes from all the different apps made by independent developers. The company provides new tools for these partners, but it is increasingly building its own versions of popular apps, too. That helps differentiate its devices from rivals but sometimes upsets third-party developers. Spotify Technology SA and other app makers have complained to European antitrust regulators that Apple’s own software and services give it an unfair advantage on the App Store. US presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren has proposed splitting the App Store from the rest of the company, although few other policy makers have supported the idea.
“Developers, from first-time engineers to larger companies, can rest assured that everyone is playing by the same set of rules,” Apple said in a recent statement rebutting Spotify’s complaint. “That’s how it should be. We want more app businesses to thrive — including the ones that compete with some aspect of our business, because they drive us to be better.”
New features coming to the Apple Watch illustrate the balance that the company must strike. Apple plans to add the App Store directly to the Watch so users can download apps on the go. This could open up huge new opportunities for outside developers, boosting app installations. But Apple has its own new Watch apps in the works, too. There will be new health applications, a Calculator and a Books app for listening to audio books from your wrist, the people familiar with the plans said.
So far, Apple has managed to make the strategy work. The App Store drove $46.6 billion in spending last year, almost double the amount spent on Google’s Android equivalent, according to Sensor Tower estimates. That’s wooed more than 20 million developers who have created over 2 million apps for Apple’s platform. At the same time, there are 1.4 billion active Apple devices in use, and 92 percent of iPhones and iPads run the latest operating system, or the version before that. The App Store and other digital services are on course to generate more than $50 billion in annual revenue soon.
Here are the software features Apple is planning to announce at WWDC 2019, according to people familiar with the plans. They asked not to be identified discussing unreleased product details. Apple’s plans are fluid and could change between now and the event, people familiar with Apple’s development process said. The company could also choose to push back some features until next year, like was done last year, they added. An Apple spokesman declined to comment.
The biggest change coming to the Mac this year is the ability for iPad apps to run on laptops and desktops, as Bloomberg News previously reported.
For the first time, Apple will allow developers who write iPad apps to re-work their apps so the software can also run on the Mac. This will be useful for developers who are looking to simplify their development process, but it will also brighten the macOS app ecosystem with several new applications. Developers will still need to submit separate versions of the app to Apple’s iOS and Mac App Stores, but the new software development kit will mean they don’t have to write the underlying code twice.
Beyond this year’s conference, Apple is planning to expand the feature so iPhone apps can run on the Mac by next year. The year after that, the company aims to merge iPhone, iPad, and Mac applications into single downloads that can run on any Apple device. Eventually, it could also merge the App Stores.
While the developer conference is software-focused, the company often sprinkles new hardware announcements in at the event. For this year, Apple has been considering debuting a revamped Mac Pro desktop computer. It’s also readying a new external monitor, code named J290, with high-dynamic-range support so colors look much better. — Bloomberg